30 Inspiring Drum Women | Tech innovator Noluvuyo Gqadu on why she teaches three-year-olds to code

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Noluvuyo Gqadu is the founder of Codengwana, which teaches kids aged 3-12 coding.
Noluvuyo Gqadu is the founder of Codengwana, which teaches kids aged 3-12 coding.

She knows what it's like to not have access to computers and the internet. 

Noluvuyo Gqadu (34) grew up in the Eastern Cape and like most children from the rural areas, she didn’t have access to technology but she was curious about it.

And now, years later, that curiosity has paid off and she's a leader in the tech space. Noluvuyo now has an impressive list of achievements and wants to make it easier for children to access technology.

When she realised that companies had to outsource skills from countries such as India, she knew that she had to play her part in making sure that there are enough skilled people within the tech industry in South Africa. 

And there was no better way to do that than to teach children between the ages of three and 12 how to code.

She pioneered Codengwana, which translates to 'code child' because she wanted to educate and teach young kid’s ways to solve problems using coding.

“When we started, it was meant to be an extra curriculum service for parents who could afford to pay for their children to learn coding but as we progressed, I saw that it wasn’t solving the problem I had seen. I am targeting kids that are excluded in the system in terms of access to technology, kids who didn’t have a computer at home. It was inspired by my own journey growing up.”

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She went to school in a village called Kwezana in the Eastern Cape and access to technology was limited and even 20 years after she has left the village, she is heartbroken that nothing much has changed.

“When I go back to the village nothing has changed.  Codengwana wants to include the excluded. If we say that children are the future of the digital workforce, the World Economic Forum says that 65% of children entering school today will find themselves in occupations that do not exist today because of automation and technology. I wanted to change communities and underprivileged schools.”

Because Wi-Fi and data are inaccessible to majority of children in the rural areas, she hopes that things will change so even the kids in underprivileged schools may come to experience technology and learn more about the industry.

“Seven out 10 kids in South Africa don’t have access to the internet according to StatsSA. Our main aim to help the African child go digital and there’s so much diversity in South Africa and technology connects us.”

“I would like all people to be included in technology. Inclusion starts with access and with all resources I don’t understand why there is no Wifi in some areas. I would like a South Africa where internet and technology are a basic human right.”
Nolu Gqadu

Codengwana teaches children aged three to six the principles of computational thinking. They are taught about algorithms, logic, and debugging through various technologies with coding logic such as robots.

“There’s no literature from an African perspective which led to me writing a coding encyclopaedia for kids and it was translated in Isixhosa and Setswana. Language was a barrier and I committed to debunking the myth that technology is subject to the privileged and can only be taught in English. I want the literature to be available in languages that children can understand.”

Noluvuyo believes that when children learn to code, they tend to look at the world differently and have a better understanding of the world.

“Children’s minds are uncorrupted and because of that, when they are taught things like coding, they receive it better than adults. They leave feeling excited and come excited. We incorporate the CAPS curriculum and that allows kids to things they have learnt in maths.

“Coding broadens the way kids think and they can solve problems using technology. We want our kids to solve problems within society. I want my own kids to have a contribution to society.”

She is a mother of two, a 10-year-old, Mivuyo and a three-year-old, Abenathi and she wants to make sure that they also have their own understanding of technology.

“I don’t want my kids to go through the same struggles I went through in university and have them play catch up because they didn’t have access to the internet. I grew up being a consumer of technology in terms of games. I would like to see my own kids not only participate in technology but to contribute. If Mivuyo doesn’t like to play a certain game, he is empowered to create a game that he can play the way he wants to.”

Read more | 30 Inspiring Drum Women | ‘It’s okay to make mistakes’ – Yvonne Chaka Chaka on lessons learned

She believes that teachers are motivated to help kids learn skills outside of the curriculum, but she says communities are also responsible for the innovation of children.

“Teachers have creative ways to introduce kids to technology, but the key decision makers are not making beneficial decisions for schools. Even when corporates donate laptops and computers, the community usually breaks into the schools. We are self-sabotaging as a country and leaders as wells our hearts are in the right place, but our actions are not showing it."

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